If you are new to our blog, we encourage you to read some of our first posts (from October/November 2009) so that you will understand the
beginning of our journey.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Path to Salt or Light

In Genesis 13, Lot and his Uncle Abraham choose two different pasture lands for their large and prosperous flocks. Lot chose to live among the cities of the plans with Mrs. Lot and the family, pitching his tent near Sodom, a place with a wicked reputation, while Abraham took land in Canaan.

God had seen Sodom’s sin and planned to destroy the city…but Abraham pleaded with God, hoping He would save the city if there were just a few righteous people. After God sent angels to Sodom, and they were almost raped by the men of the city, the angels said God would not spare Sodom. But if the family left immediately, they could escape.

Lot and Mrs. Lot seemed to drag their feet as they faced the challenge of leaving their home. Despite numerous warnings – such as “Don’t look back”…“Do not stop”…“Flee”…the angels had to grab them by the hands and pull them away to avoid being caught up in the destruction.

So they fled…and as the city perished behind them, Mrs. Lot – tragically – looked back. The result? She turned into a pillar of salt.

I often have wondered why she looked back. After all, the city was an evil place and under God’s judgment. How could there be anything of worth to look back upon? And yet she stopped, turned, and looked back. Was Mrs. Lot was just curious? Was she just pining for her lost past in a place of familiarity? Did she feel a sense of emptiness because she could not take all of her belongings with her? Or perhaps it was just a sense of sadness at leaving behind some friends? Or maybe…just maybe…it was easier to look back, rather than face her fear of an unknown future.

Obviously, we can only surmise all the reasons that Mrs. Lot looked back, but she did… and with that single act of disobedience, her story and her life come to an abrupt end.

I’ve been thinking about Mrs. Lot’s story these past few weeks, wondering what lessons I might glean from her. Certainly, if God gives me some clear instructions, I should obey Him – not just in word, but in action. God also reminds me that He is my escape route, often rescuing me from my poorly-chosen ideas or behaviors that would hold me back from the life He has for me.

For almost 14 months Bruce and I prayed specifically that God would clearly show us the next step for our lives. After all that waiting, we were excited when God directed us to Oregon to be a part of a new church family here.

But thinking about change, and then experiencing it, are not the same thing. In my mind, I thought within a month or so I would feel settled. Obviously it’s been too long since I’ve moved! I forgot how long it takes to acclimate to something new. Of course there’s the first rush of excitement as you meet new people and explore new places. But after the sense of “brand new” fades, you discover that you still are trying to discover how and where you fit. That can lead to a sense of disquiet; a sense of unrest. It can produce doubts and questions.

And a heart that harbors doubts and anxiety is easy prey for that whisper, “look back”. Look back to the friends you miss. Look back to a house and a familiar routine. Look back, because the life you knew is there. Life as you want it is there. But this message is a lie. And if I let my mind embrace that deception, it becomes self-destructive. I cannot look back and I cannot go back because God has called us here. Our life now is here. And part of the lie is this: our life in Fullerton had changed, and the siren song of my memory does not fit with the reality of the past couple of years.

The wonderful friends in my life were moving on in their careers and in their experiences, while I was in a season of waiting and praying for the next step. We had left behind our church and our ministries. Our place…my place…in the world of Fullerton was gone. I had been changed by my journey, and I no longer was the same person. I needed to move on and God had prepared me to move on. 

But pining for a rose-colored past, and a fear of the unknown future, can cause me to become paralyzed in the present.

Life seems very different now, but it’s been very different for at least the past two years. And it is these seasons of “different” that turn life into an adventure and an opportunity; a time for new growth and new life. A time to increasingly learn how to live by faith by looking forward...not backward. 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily
entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith….
[Hebrews 12:1-2a]

Mrs. Lot’s tragic story reminds me that God’s call is not to look back and try to recapture a past whose chapter is closed. (After all, who wants to be a pillar of salt?) Instead, my loving Father invites me to look forward into my new adventure with Him, and to bask in the joy of being a recipient of, and a reflector of, His light.

One day at a time. One step at a time.

- Julie

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Starting Over

We spent 25 years building a life in Fullerton, California…and we packed it all up in just 4 weeks. We watched our possessions head off in a moving van, then we drove north (an adventure in itself, filled with the usual White-family trials and travails of a road trip) and arrived at our new home in Springfield, Oregon.

Unlike our old 1950’s-era, ranch-style tract home in SoCal, our new home is a 1910 farmhouse on an acre of land. We are just a mile from the church, conveniently located near shopping and city centers, yet it feels like we live in the country. The furniture we have acquired over the years consists mostly of antiques, so Julie commented that our stuff looked more appropriate here than in our old home…and she’s right! Much of our furniture is about the same age as our house. We love it’s charm and character, and the huge trees we can see out of virtually every window.

We arrived with fall at its peak, and the autumn colors were delightful. It’s been crisp, cold, somewhat rainy, and even one day with a light snowfall. We love the change of seasons and the beauty of God’s creation all around us.

Our new church family has been warm, welcoming, loving, affirming, and gracious. I feel like God has been preparing us for this time and place and season of ministry for many, many years.

In other words: we are truly overwhelmed and we feel very blessed to be here.  And yet…in these first weeks, it really hit me that God has asked us to “start over”.

In just about every way.

We are in a new city, at a new church, in a new kind of home, with new neighbors, and a whole bunch of new friends. I go to work in a new office, where the routines and practices are different.

It’s all good…yet there is a deeper sense than ever before that the Lord truly is our foundation. When you live in one place for a long time, as we did, it is so easy to become secure in the familiarity of the place, and the people, and the things around you. And it is easy for us to mistake this sense of security in the people and the place for the trust and reliance we should place in our Lord.

Because everything here is so new, we do not have the luxury of this false sense of security. As a result, we find ourselves holding much more firmly onto God. This is good…and I hope to never lose this deeper sense of reliance upon Him, realizing that He is – and must be – my foundation. Over time, I know that we will feel increasingly at home here, and that we will develop wonderful and intimate friendships…just as we did in Fullerton. But I don’t want to let the strength of those friendships or the familiarity of the place ever dilute my trust in, and my reliance upon, the Lord God Almighty.

Still, it is odd and strange and weird and wonderful to be starting over in my 50’s. And I am reminded regularly of the overwhelming newness of my life here in Oregon. For example, I had gone to the same building in Placentia, every two weeks, for nearly 20 years for chiropractic treatment. I had my last adjustment 3 days before we moved…and on Monday I had my first visit with the new chiropractor. He seems like a wonderful doctor – very knowledgeable and skillfull – with a helpful and courteous assistant. But he’s another new presence in my life; another reminder that all of my routines…all of them…are starting fresh. (Even old & familiar routines – like my daily time with the Lord – somehow seem new and different because they are taking place in a new location.)

I’m discovering that this newness leads to a sense of fragility…but also to a deep sense of excitement. An air of expectancy and anticipation. There is the great joy of discovery as we get to know the people (of Garden Way Church and the communities of Eugene/Springfield)…and the great fun of discovering the unique qualities of this place and these people.

But as I reflect on what it means to “start over”, I find myself arriving at what may be the most important conclusion of all: I now have the privilege and opportunity to more fully live out all that God has been building into me for the past year.

- Bruce

Monday, November 29, 2010

Picking the Right Crossroad

I’m so thankful for what God provided through the many years of living in Fullerton. This was a season (a quarter-century!) when God met us, shaped us, and developed us…as parents, as friends, as pastors, and as His children.

God used people and circumstances to help us grow and change. But after living for many years in one place, your life and interactions take on a familiar and comforting tone. Now that’s not bad – that’s wonderful. I felt at home in my town and with my world.

But God has chosen to bring us to a new place and I realize that He has plans for us…for more growth and change.

I’m not sure I like change. In fact, I’m sure that in the beginning of change I rarely like it. On camping trips, when we first drive into a new campground, I frequently think, “I’m not sure I’ll like this”. It will be different than I imagined, or smaller than I thought, or not as pretty as it looked on the website, or....     

Now, choosing a new campsite is not that big of a deal, but this same perspective can come my way when working through major issues. These same kind of doubts; these same kinds of questions, pop into my head as I wrestle with the consequences of our move and job change. I have a tendency to want to blurt out, “Lord, this is good…but not quite like I pictured.” But to navigate change in a healthy way, I realize that I need to see things from a different perspective.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m just not sure how far I can trust God. Because when He asks me to make a change, I can acknowledge mentally that it’s good…but my heart so easily can be fearful. And yet this year of transition - of waiting and not working - has been a time to learn more about trusting God more with my heart. Not that I’ve arrived by any means, but I have learned a few things about trusting my God – or maybe it’s that I have a better understanding of His love for me.

So as we faced our move to Oregon, I felt a deep sense of peace; I had a tremendous assurance that God’s hand was on us. So as we packed up our home of 25 years and said our last goodbyes, I felt that God was going before us.

But of course there have been moments when my emotions have overwhelmed me…and I’ve cried. I try to keep my eyes focused on Jesus, but I find them much more easily directed toward my circumstances. The “move” of course was the big change, but there are daily reminders about how so much has changed, and – as a result – I often feel like my emotions are riding on a roller coaster.

I think about the past weeks, and I find myself summarizing my new life in ways like this: we’ve moved from the concrete region of Disneyland to a place of wide-open spaces and beautiful big trees. Instead of wearing sandals in the fall, I’m dressing for rain and cold. I am meeting and getting to know and investing in dozens and dozens and dozens of new people. As the crown princess of the “directionally-challenged”, I’m trying to learn my way around town (and I cannot tell you how many times Rachel and I have been lost on our excursions). And, of course, finding new doctors and dentists and other suppliers of our “support services.”

And after having Bruce mostly home for 14 months, he’s now going off to work again every day. I now God has called him to this place…but I miss him! And it’s yet another substantial change in the rhythm of our lives.

In the midst of these swirling emotion, God asks me to step forward in faith and trust, believing that He is in this change. Believing that He will always bring good from this change. Believing that this change will enable me to grow and draw closer to Him. Believing that He will provide me with opportunities to use my gifts and passions for His Kingdom.

As I ponder this, I realize that my attitude towards what God is doing makes all the difference. As I face the crossroads of fear and faith, I trust Him each day to help me choose the right path. With His help, I choose not to focus on my fear of change…but rather on the potential that comes with change. And I rejoice in the new friends and the new opportunities that emerge from this new place, day by day.

This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. Jeremiah 6:16

- Julie

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Journey is Over…the Journey Begins

In early August of 2009, Julie and I wrapped up more than two decades of life at Eastside Christian Church in Fullerton, California. In early October of 2010 (14 months later!) we were invited to become part of a new family: Garden Way Church in Eugene, Oregon, where I will serve as the Preaching Minister.

And so the long journey of sabbatical and waiting and searching is over…and a new journey begins. A new life in a new place. A new ministry among new people, with new challenges and new opportunities.

I can hardly wait to begin.

But this month is a season of closure as we pack up our home and our life here in Fullerton. As Julie noted in her last post, there are losses - necessary losses - associated with new beginnings. Moving away from friends and familiar things is not easy, yet it is the joy of the new journey ahead which fills us with hope…and which allows us to grieve in a healthy and healing way.

When we moved to our home on West Avenue in Fullerton in February of 1985, we had one simple prayer: “Lord, would you please provide us with a home where we can raise our children?” The Father graciously answered that prayer with a resounding “Yes!”. Later that year, Karina was born, and all three of our children have grown up in this home. Here in this place they have been molded through infancy and childhood and adolescence, and have been launched into adulthood.

Needless to say, this place is filled…filled…with memories. We honor these memories, we celebrate these memories, and we leave this place behind with full hearts. Grateful hearts. Thankful hearts.

Because of the breadth and depth of these memories, we encounter poignant and tearful moments as we pack: when we hold a particular memento, or look at a particular picture, or reflect on a particular season of life that we have experienced here. Yet these moments help bring closure to this season of life – a quarter-century in one home in one community – and help prepare us for the next season of life.

So as we reflect thankfully upon the past, we also gaze expectantly into the future. While I pack boxes, I find myself prayerfully pondering future sermon topics. I find myself thinking about the staff and elders and deacons at Garden way; wondering what this person or that person is doing today; wondering about the challenges and opportunities and joys and hopes and hurts that our new family members may be experiencing. Wondering how God will choose to use me to help encourage and strengthen this particular part of His family.

This is the adventure that awaits us.

When we leave here on November 1 we will head north as changed people because the last year has been one of personal transformation. We simply are not the same people we were 14 months ago. A deeper hunger for God has been birthed within us, and we have new insights about what it means to “live by faith”. We are more committed to prayer; to sitting quietly in His presence with our Bibles open and our hearts open and our minds open so that we can more clearly hear the voice of our Father.

This lengthy journey has had many ups and downs. There were numerous days when it seemed as if heaven was silent, and we wondered when God would finally say “Go!”. But now, at the far side of this season of waiting, we find ourselves saying “thank you” to our amazingly patient Father for the challenges and opportunities of this past year, because the14-month journey that is now coming to a close has prepared us for the journey that lies ahead.

The journey is over. And the journey begins…

- Bruce

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Accommodating…or Filling?

Recently, I find myself pondering this question: Am I accommodating God’s presence in my life…or am I filling my life with God's His presence?

When I was young, I clearly remember lunchtime in the school multipurpose room. We were required to be “orderly” as we filed into the room and sat down. Lunchroom monitors roamed the room to make sure that our behavior was appropriate. One of these monitors even had a “stop” sign she would hold up. When we saw that sign, we knew that the lunchroom noise level had become too loud…and we had to STOP.


Each day as I sat down to lunch, I would hope to be able to sit with my friends, because of course I wanted to surround myself with people I liked. Periodically, though, someone I didn’t like would come up and ask if I would make room for them at the table. My response? I would grudgingly accommodate them.

I’ve held that image in my mind – the image of grudging accommodation – to help me think more clearly about my relationship with God. I’m sorry to say that there are times when I merely “accommodate” His presence in my life. But there are other times when I willingly, gladly, make room for Him to sit with me; to fill my heart, my mind, my soul, and my world with His presence.

Why do I have these differing attitudes toward God? Why wouldn’t I want to continually allow the Father’s presence to fill my world?

As I reflect back on that school lunchroom, I’m able to glean some insights. The people I would accommodate, rather than welcome, were those with one or more of the following characteristics: I didn’t think they were nice. The things they said made me feel uncomfortable. They weren’t part of “my circle” so they were not familiar to me or my group. They were socially awkward or uncool in some way, and I was afraid of what my friends would think if I allowed such people to sit with us. When these kinds of people were around, lunch time was not as much fun.

And what about the people I welcomed? Sometimes, the people I welcomed were “popular”, and I wanted them to notice me and accept me as their friend. But more typically, I was surrounded by my friends. I liked what they said, because we talked about things of mutual interest. Our time together was encouraging and fun.

In these interactions of my past, I see glimpses of how my behavior causes me sometimes to welcome the Lord, and sometimes to accommodate Him. When He tells me what I want to hear and when He makes me feel good, then of course I welcome Him with open arms. But when He makes me feel uncomfortable or pushes me to do something that I would rather not do, then my tendency is to accommodate Him…rather than welcome Him.

As Bruce and I prepare to leave our home in Fullerton after 25 years and move to Eugene/Springfield, Oregon, I sense that we are not just packing up our belongings…we are packing up our life. Our world is changing, and what we have known and experienced is being dismantled as we follow God into a new season and a new adventure.

There is emotion and turmoil in the midst of this change, and it reminds me of my deep need for God. But because change brings both “gain” and “loss”, I find myself vacillating in my responses to the Father: sometimes accommodating; sometimes welcoming. When I dwell on the physical task of moving our belongings and setting up a home in an unfamiliar place…when I think about the friends I will leave behind…I find myself, at times, merely accommodating the Lord. When I think about the wonderful people we’ve already met in our new community…when I ponder the beauty of the place where we are moving…it’s so much easier to welcome the Lord and follow where He wants to lead me.

I recognize that I need to welcome God into both aspects of this change, because He wants to help me grieve my losses in order to bring closure to our life here. The grief and the loss are necessary, because without them there cannot be a new beginning. So I must welcome Him into the hard places and the hard moments of life, because these losses are part of His plan.

And so as shelves are being emptied; as files, books, and dishware are being packed; as the trappings of my life here are being stripped away; I find myself welcoming God in a whole new way. There is a new “space” within me that is ever more open to His presence, ever more welcoming to His presence. I find myself asking Him to fill this space. To fill me. Not just to calm my anxious heart, but to fill my life with Him.

When we settle into our new place – our new home, our new church family - my prayer is that I will continue to make space at my lunchroom table for the Father. Every day. Not with grudging accommodation, but with open arms of welcome.

- Julie

Friday, October 8, 2010

Give Me Clarity…Now Give Me More Clarity!

I often think, “If I just receive clarity from the Lord, I will gladly obey.” But in our recent journey, I’ve realized that fear can keep me from moving forward, even when God does provide clarity.

In Judges 6, we see a man named Gideon struggling with this same issue: receiving clarity, but still afraid of moving forward in his circumstances. How I can identify with Gideon!

An angel of the Lord appears to Gideon and tells him “the Lord is with you.” What more should he need than that kind of overt confirmation? Yet, Gideon questions that statement, feeling as if the Lord has abandoned him and the people of Israel.

The Lord then tells Gideon that he will be given strength to save Israel. But Gideon questions the angel of the Lord once again, and he does so by pointing out his unsuitably for the task: he’s weak, he’s young, he’s inadequate. The angel of the Lord reminds Gideon that God is with him!

I’m just like Gideon. I desire clarity…God gives me what I ask for…but then I doubt and ask for more clarity. Again and again.

Later on in Gideon’s life, the Spirit of the Lord comes upon him as he prepares the Israelites for battle. And despite God’s earlier faithfulness, Gideon once again questions Him, looking for assurance that the Lord will keep His promises to Israel.

As a way to confirm God’s will, Gideon places a wool fleece on a threshing floor, and offers a prayer. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then he will know that the Lord is faithful. God graciously gives Gideon the sign he is looking for…yet Gideon continues to doubt. So he prays again, this time asking that the ground will be wet with dew and the fleece will be dry. God…ever gracious, ever patient…once again responds to Gideon’s request.

God is providing Gideon with incredible clarity about his direction, but – at almost every step - Gideon hesitates. He struggles with doubts; he offers excuses; he delays moving forward by asking questions. Why does he do this? Because he feels inadequate for the tasks ahead, even though he has been personally selected for those tasks by God Himself! Gideon is afraid. And his fear results in hesitation.

I understand exactly how Gideon feels, because God has given us tremendous clarity in recent months as we have waited upon Him. We certainly do not know all that the future holds, but He has faithfully given us clarity and direction at each step of our journey. We have learned that we do not need to understand all the steps that lie ahead…we just need to know the next step. And God has made the next step clear, time after time after time.

I love to analyze and compare and evaluate; I love to be in charge of the details of my life. So as Bruce and I prayerfully searched for a new church home, I wanted God to give us two or three or four or more options from which to choose.

But I was praying daily for clarity, so God directed us to one…and only one…church. You see, our loving Father knew that too many choices would not only muddy the water, it would cause us to think that we were in control. Instead, we had to rely on God. We had to trust His choice for us, rather than (as is usually the case) ask Him to bless the choices we make.

When we visited the church that God had picked out for us, I felt in my soul that He was confirming and clarifying His plan for us. So how did I respond? Did I react with faith and trust? Sadly…no. I responded just like Gideon, with doubts and questions and fears.

I felt inadequate. I questioned what it would be like to move to a new place with new people. Like Gideon, I wanted to ask for a re-check; to clarify if God really was speaking to us; to clarify that we actually understood His plan correctly.

Why the questioning? Why the doubts?

Fear. Just fear. I was afraid that I could not do what needed to be done; that I could not be who I needed to be.


However, as I pondered and prayed, I realized that Gideon and I both were looking at our challenges from the wrong angle. We were focusing on ourselves. We were struggling with our perceptions, our capabilities, our plans, our desires. By bringing me to the story of Gideon, God reminded me that the journey of faith is not built upon what I can do. It is about listening to God, hearing His voice, and following Him. Yes, I am weak and not always capable. But God is strong, always capable, and always faithful.

It was comforting to read Gideon’s account of his dialogue with God. For as I recognized my own fear and offered it to the Lord, His peace descended upon my heart…my mind…my soul. And I realized that it really is better not to know everything about the future. All I need to know is the next step.

All I need is clarity – just enough clarity – so that I can move forward in faith, following the Lord wherever He leads me.

- Julie

Sunday, September 19, 2010

What Is “The Gospel”? (Part 2)

In my last post, I described two groups within the evangelical world who equate their favored activity or their favored doctrine with “the gospel”. Both of these groups consist of wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ, and both of them emphasize important aspects of our faith. However, by incorrectly defining and describing the gospel, they can – inadvertently – create confusion.

One of the reasons I follow such debates/discussions is that they challenge me to more clearly define my own views. So here is my answer to this vital and foundational question: “What is the gospel?”

The gospel, reduced to its most simple form, is the message that Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins. And (here’s a piece that often is missed) by His death and resurrection, Jesus invites us to become citizens of the Kingdom of God.

We certainly can say much more, but this, I believe, is the essence of the “good news”.

However, to expand on this simple explanation, I would describe the gospel this way:

The gospel is the incredibly good news that God came from heaven to earth in human form to reveal Himself to mankind. He appeared in human history in the person that we know as Jesus. Jesus lived an exemplary life, but was crucified on a cross as if he were a common criminal. However – amazing as it may seem – the unjust shedding of His innocent blood can serve to pay the penalty for my sins.

Why does this matter? Because my sins separate me from God, and prevent me from living my life to the fullest, as intended by my Creator.

There is nothing I can do to be saved from my sins; there is no behavior that will allow me to earn my way into God’s favor. His forgiveness is offered to me as a gift. This is truly good news!

After His death on the cross, Jesus was buried…but then He rose from the grave and returned to heaven. His resurrection demonstrated that He truly is the Lord over life and death for all who choose to believe in Him. He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords!

How do I…how does anyone…respond to this good news? Quite simply: I admit to God that I am a sinner, and I acknowledge that faith in Jesus is the only way to be saved from the consequences of my sins. I accept His death on the cross as a sacrificial act of love which He performed on my behalf. I repent of my sins and I choose to be baptized. My baptism allows me to demonstrate that I am making a new beginning; turning away from my old way of life and now living in relationship with God.

But the good news does not end there!

Notice these opening lines from the Gospel of Mark:

…Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said, “and the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel!” (Mark 1:15)

Jesus makes it clear that the gospel is not just about me and my salvation…the gospel is, ultimately, a proclamation about the Kingdom of God. Therefore, when I decided to follow Jesus at age 17, I did not only receive forgiveness for my sins…I also became a citizen of God’s Kingdom.

Wow.

God’s Kingdom operates with an entirely different set of principles than the kingdoms of this world. Jesus spells out these life-changing principles through His teachings in the Sermon on the Mount…the Beatitudes…the Great Commandment…the Parables. All of His teaching is intended to show me, and my fellow citizens, how we should live as part of His Kingdom today.

Not just later on in heaven, but right here.

Right now.

In this life.

In His final words, the Great Commission, Jesus reminds us not to keep silent about this good news, because the gospel is not supposed to be a secret! The Lord of heaven and earth chooses to trust me (just as He trusts each of His followers) to faithfully share the good news with other people. Isn’t this amazing? I have the incredible privilege of inviting others to join me as a citizen of the Kingdom of God.

This is the gospel. This is good news. God has a great gift which He eagerly desires to give to anyone who simply will receive it: life with Jesus in His Kingdom, both now and forever.

Oh, Lord, help me to graciously, boldly, lovingly, confidently, and joyfully share this good news with the people that You bring into my life.

- Bruce

Saturday, September 18, 2010

What Is “The Gospel”? (Part 1)

There has been a fair amount of buzz recently in the blogosphere – and elsewhere – about the meaning of “the gospel”, which simply is the good news about Jesus. This topic has emerged largely because of the rise of two interesting groups within the evangelical world over the past few years.

One group is the “social justice” Christians. When these believers read the Bible, they see God’s very real concern for the poor, the needy, and the downtrodden. They identify strongly with the Lord’s exhortation to address injustice. I agree with their concerns and their passions, and I am grateful for their reminder that the church always must tend to those in need. Unfortunately, many in this movement have started to equate “concern for the poor” with “the gospel.” For them, a specific activity has become the standard by which Christians are measured. In other words, if you are not pursuing social justice as your top agenda item, then you are not really proclaiming or living out the gospel of Jesus. 

I recently read a blog post from an individual who passionately adheres to this position. He quoted Jesus’ statement in Luke 4:18-19 which reads:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

After citing this verse, the writer essentially said, “end of discussion. This proves my case.”

I always find it interesting when people use “proof texts” to reinforce their particular agenda. It is so easy to fall into this pattern, and – when I see it in others – it reminds me to guard against this tendency within myself. In this case, the passage at hand does make it clear that Jesus has a deep concern for the poor, needy, and oppressed. But is the Lord speaking of these needs in their physical context? Or their spiritual context? Or perhaps both?

After all, one could certainly make the case that Jesus did not die on the cross just so we could be healed from our physical infirmities, or be set free from poverty. And even if we take this passage at face value, is it really the “end of the discussion” about the life, ministry, and purposes of our Lord?

It seems to me that caring for the poor and needy is something that Christians should do (one of many things that Christians should do) once “the gospel” has grabbed hold of their heart.

What, then, is “the gospel”?

Another group that is fueling on-line chatter about this topic is “The New Calvinists” (TNC’s). Pastors who are part of this growing movement often are organizing under the banner of the gospel. For example, one of their groups is “The Gospel Coalition” and their major annual conference is called “Together For The Gospel.” This group has a high view of Scripture, and they teach and preach with great diligence. I am grateful for their example that we must devote ourselves to the study of God’s Word. However, it is disconcerting when they equate “Calvinism” with “the gospel”. For this group, a specific doctrinal system has become the standard by which Christians are measured. In other words, if you are not preaching Calvinism, then you are not really proclaiming or living out the gospel of Jesus.

NOTE: My views would fall more generally in the direction of Arminian theology. For a basic overview of the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism, click on this link:
http://www.the-highway.com/compare.html

I once was invited to meet with a few ministers who identify with the TNC’s. I arrived at the church, we grabbed some coffee, and sat down to converse. One of the ministers began to speak, and the following conversation ensued:

Minister: “Man, it’s so good to be together.”

Me: “Yes, I always love getting together with other pastors. It’s great to be able to encourage each other and pray for each other.”

Minister: “No, I mean it’s so good to get together as Calvinists. It’s really important for us to stick together.”

Me: “Well, actually, I’m not a Calvinist....”

I explained to him without rancor that I was part of a movement – the Restoration Movement – that had been started by people from different doctrinal groups (some from the Arminian view and some from the Calvinist view) for the express purpose of moving beyond these divisions. The founders of our movement wanted to focus on the core beliefs that unite us (“the essentials”), rather than squabble over the secondary beliefs that divide us (“the non-essentials”), because they wanted to get Christians working together for the cause of the gospel.

The other ministers listened politely…we went on with our meeting…and I never was invited back again. It saddened me to realize that their narrow doctrinal view was more important than our unity as brothers and sisters in Christ. Despite their expressed intention to work “together for the gospel”, they were more interested in working together for Calvinism.

I have no doubts that there are other groups within Christianity who – like the two I’ve mentioned here – equate their preferred activity or preferred doctrinal system with “the gospel.” How sad that we draw these artificial boundaries which Jesus did not create.

What really breaks my heart is that such boundaries and divisions within God’s family actually detract from our ability to proclaim the gospel to those who desperately need to hear the “good news” about Jesus.

So the question remains: what is the gospel? How should we describe it?

I will address that in Part 2.

- Bruce

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Liturgies of Non-Liturgical Churches

In my last post, I wrote about my tour through a variety of churches. Most of these churches would fall under the broad label of “evangelical” churches. Evangelical churches have several distinctives, such as a deep reliance upon the truth of the Bible, the importance of sharing the good news of Jesus with people who do not know Him, and a rejection of the “liturgical” practices of traditional Protestant churches. In the Christian Churches where I serve, we would certainly describe ourselves as non-liturgical.

But this is not entirely accurate, because a liturgy is simply a prescribed form or format for a public worship service. In traditional churches, this is seen in the recital of various confessions and creeds…in offering formal prayers that are written in a prayer book or lectionary…and by reading Scriptures that follow the seasons of the “church calendar” (such as Lent and Advent). And while it is true that our evangelical churches may not use the formal practices of the more traditional churches, we do create – and rely upon - routine formats for our services.

Over time, then, I realized that we were fooling ourselves when we called ourselves “non-liturgical”, because every church has a liturgy of some sort.

For example, in the little Baptist Church where I became a Christian, the worship service began in exactly the same way, each and every Sunday: the organist would play a few chords, we all would rise to our feet, then the minister and choir would step out onto the platform while we all sang the first verse (and only the first verse!) of the hymn “Come Thou Almighty King”.

This weekly “call to worship” was part of our liturgy.

As I reflect back on my tour of churches, it is now clear to me that every one of these churches had some sort of liturgy, because the worship service followed a similar format…week after week. I recently read a blog post by a man whose father was a pastor in a small Bible church. He said his Dad’s service planning each week was quite simple: he took the bulletin from the prior week, crossed out the names of the hymns and the sermon title, and then wrote in the new hymns and the new sermon title. But the order of the service never changed. The choir number always was presented at the same point in the service. The offering always followed the choir number and then was followed by a solo. Communion always preceded the sermon, and the sermon always was followed by an invitation to respond.

In other words: this church had its own liturgy; they just did not recognize it or acknowledge it as such.

We live in an age in which many churches are striving to be hip, cool, relevant, and contemporary. Such churches typically view themselves as throwing off the constraints of the past and operating on the edge. And yet, these churches, too, wind up creating their own liturgies as the following video spoof makes clear.


"Sunday's Coming" Movie Trailer from North Point Media on Vimeo.

If you have difficulty playing this clip, you can find it at http://vimeo.com/11501569

So...I find myself wondering: why do virtually all churches (even those identified as “non-liturgical”) create some sort of consistent pattern in their worship services?

I believe the answer is two-fold:

First, our God is a God of order and He prefers that our time together in corporate worship be peaceful, rather than chaotic (1 Corinthians 14:33). Clearly, it is much easier to accomplish orderly worship when people know what to expect.

Second, God has designed us as creatures of habit. Our normal method of navigating life is to explore options, learn those which suit us best (or which are most comfortable), and then adopt those habits as an ongoing part of life. This brings a sense of order and normalcy to our days.

As a point of comparison, imagine how disruptive and anxious our lives would be if each day when we arrived at work (a) our desk or work station was in an entirely new location and (b) we had a completely new set of responsibilities for that day. By the end of the first week, I think most of us would be a neurotic mess.

Orderly patterns, then, make life manageable. They give structure to our days and create a sense of stability and security. That is why established patterns in church – our liturgies, whatever they might be – are vitally important.

However, there is one huge potential downside to these patterns: our liturgies can take on a life of their own. They can stop serving as a pathway to the living God, and instead they can become the familiar and well-worn ruts in which we “do church”. If we are not careful, our liturgies can become traditions that even interfere with the movement of God’s Spirit.

Facing the pressure of providing a worship service each week, alongside all the other demands of ministry, it is easy for those of us in ministry to simply do things the way we’ve always done them (whether those ways are “traditional” or “contemporary”.) It takes time to prayerfully seek the heart of God, and ask Him what He wants to accomplish in and among His people each week.

So…as I strive to find some sort of balance in all of this…I find myself asking the Lord these sorts of questions:

How can we best structure corporate worship to lead people into Your presence?

How can we create familiar patterns to help accomplish this goal?

How can we bring some variety into these established patterns to keep them fresh…without creating chaos?

How do we insure that our worship is orderly...yet still sensitive to the promptings of Your Spirit?

- Bruce

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

My Tour of American Christianity

When I became a follower of Jesus Christ at age 17, I knew almost nothing about the institution we call “the church”. I was aware that it came in a variety of forms and flavors, but all of these were foreign to me. Out of curiosity, and a sincere desire to learn, I spent the first several years of my spiritual journey checking out many of these different expressions of Christianity.

Although I visited a few Catholic churches, my tour primarily focused on Protestant expressions of the faith, and encompassed the following churches: Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, FourSquare, Congregational, Friends, Brethren. My exposure to many of these churches was limited to a few Sundays as a visitor, because usually I could tell fairly quickly whether or not I was going to fit in. When I found a church where there was a strong foundation on Scripture and meaningful worship, then I would settle down into regular attendance and (usually) membership.

This “church tour” was enlightening in many different ways:

1. Each of these churches had their own set of distinctive doctrines and practices. And yet, beneath these differences, there was a foundational belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. These churches were not exalting some other “god”…Jesus was at the core of their faith. Even when I disagreed with a particular church’s approach to the faith, it was wonderful to see how many different groups of people took Christ – and His teachings– seriously.

2. If I stuck around a church long enough, I always encountered some people who truly seemed to radiate the transforming love of Jesus Christ. Sadly, I also encountered some people who did not seem to be very Christ-like. As a result, I learned at an early stage that just knowing “about” God by attending church should not be my focus. Instead, I should strive to know God personally, and allow His Spirit to actually transform my mind, my heart, and my life.

3. The differences I encountered in doctrine and practice among these various churches forced me to dig deep into Scripture to determine what I believed. I chose, as my role models, the people of ancient Berea. The Bible tells us that the Apostle Paul went to Berea and began to explain how the Messiah, Jesus Christ, had arrived to usher in God’s Kingdom. And how did these people respond? They “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). In a similar way, I wanted God’s Spirit to speak to me through the pages of the Bible; to confirm in my heart and mind and soul how I should understand and express my faith.

As a result of my own prayerful study, I ultimately found that every church I visited or joined had some issue or practice or doctrine that just did not fully resonate within me. As an active member of a church, I usually had some sort of teaching ministry, and I made it a point not to teach on the specific issues where I disagreed, because I did not want to be divisive in any way. However, this also made me a feel a bit like an outsider; as if I never could fully belong.

And there was one other nagging thought. For many years there had been a longing in my heart, and a stirring in my soul, to serve God through full-time ministry. On more than one occasion, people even confirmed this call upon my life. But I knew that for this vision to become a reality, I had to find a church where I would be fully “at home” in terms of doctrine and practice.

Then, some 25 years ago, God graciously allowed me to find the Christian Church. This network of independent congregations (known collectively as part of “The Restoration Movement”) became my home. For the first time, I found myself attending a church where the doctrines and practices fully lined up with my understanding of Scripture. For the first time, I was part of a movement where I could teach and preach and serve without reservation.

I must confess that by the time I joined a Christian Church, I had virtually given up on God’s ministry call upon my life. Thankfully, though, the Heavenly Father had not given up on me. So after 5 years of active service in our local church, the Lord invited me to leave my business career behind and become a full-time minister of the gospel. I took that step of faith with the full support of my wife, recognizing that this was not just a “career” change…this was a lifestyle change.

Some of the most challenging transitions we had to deal with included: a radical change in the nature and flow of my work-week, an increased sense of living in a fish-bowl where my life (and that of my family) was under greater scrutiny, vastly reduced income (both immediately and over the long term), reduced benefits (particularly in the area of retirement), and a recognition that now – for the first time – my job and my church family were inextricably linked.

Needless to say, our transition to this new lifestyle was not always easy. We have experienced many ups and downs over these past 20 years in ministry, but we have absolutely no regrets about the life God has asked us to live. Obedience…even when it is costly…has its own satisfactions. Best of all, the opportunity to invest in people, and then watch God actually transform their lives, is simply amazing. I can think of nothing in this life that is so rewarding.

As I reflect on the past, I am convinced that I would not be in the ministry today without having embarked on my “church tour”. This exposure to the diverse expressions of Christianity helped to form me and shape me. I was driven to learn and to study; to wrestle with issues of doctrine and theology and church practice. As a result, when God opened the door to ministry…I was ready.

Through a long and somewhat circuitous route, God had prepared me to answer His call.

- Bruce

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

I think it’s going to be Christmas tomorrow.

That sounds like a funny statement to make on the last day of August, but that is how I am trying to look at my circumstances.

When I was little, I loved the excitement of looking forward to Christmas Day. I was entranced with the sights and sounds of the season – lights, glitter, ornaments. What a beautiful way to celebrate Jesus’ birthday. After opening stockings and enjoying breakfast together, we all would troop to the living room. First my father would read the Christmas story, and then we would pray. After that, we would take turns opening brightly colored presents. And what is a present, after all, but a surprise wrapped up as a gift?

I often hoped for (and even prayed for) a specific gift, but I now realize that I received an abundance of special gifts…some that were expected, and many that were not. Sometimes the unexpected gift was the best one of all.

Which brings me back to my feelings about celebrating Christmas tomorrow.

For just over a year, Bruce and I have been waiting for God’s instructions as to the next step in our lives. We have prayed. Others – family, friends, many of you who read this blog – have prayed. We have tried to be patient, waiting to see how God would unfold our future. Mostly, we’ve been content and have grown through this season of waiting. But at times, I just have wanted to say, “I’m done, Lord.” In those moments, I’ve been impatient, wanting God to give us His answer now. And yet, I’ve also been fearful. Fearful of when He would answer and how He would answer, and (at times) even wondering if He would answer.

And now we come to the past few weeks. A church in another state is seriously considering Bruce for the position of preaching minister. The search committee has met with their final candidates (including us) and tonight the committee meets to discuss their conclusions. Their goal is to prayerfully decide which candidate is best suited to fill this vital role in their church.

Needless to say, we have been a bit anxious, wondering how this will turn out. But we recognize that God is in control; that He is unfolding His plan for us in His timing. (A year ago, we would have made a statement like this sincerely, but without truly understanding its implications. Now, because we are utterly dependent on Him, these words take on an entirely new meaning for us.)

As I sat down at my computer today, a feeling of dread began to shadow my heart. But then I thought of Christmas – of the joy and the expectancy and the sheer surprise of that special day – and I wondered if looking at our current situation through the lens of Christmas would help me understand God’s heart.

I know, with certainty, that our God gives good gifts. So I want to have that same feeling of “Christmas excitement” tomorrow, or later this week, when the search committee contacts Bruce. Whether the answer is “Yes, we are interested” or “No, we are choosing someone else”, I want to receive that answer as a good gift…as the best possible gift…from my loving Father.

Whether we move forward in the candidate process with this church, or whether we look for some type of work right here, my desire is to receive this surprise present as God’s gift, wrapped in His love, for us.

As I was writing this post, the words from “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” popped into my head. This wonderful Christmas hymn…particularly the third verse…seems appropriate to our situation.

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold;
“Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From Heaven’s all gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever over its Babel sounds
The blessèd angels sing.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

- Julie

Friday, August 20, 2010

Observations of a Church Nomad

It’s hard to believe that Julie and I left our former church one full year ago.

When we made the painful decision to resign, we also made the painful decision to stop attending the church. For many reasons, it is extremely difficult to continue attending a church where you have been serving on staff. And so…after nearly a quarter-century…we said goodbye to our church family and left behind many dear friends. Based on past experience, we knew that we would be able to stay connected to some of these people, but that other relationships would dissipate over time.

We also knew that our transition would last for awhile as we went “on sabbatical”, and then began the process of prayerfully searching for new ministry roles. In this situation, it did not seem wise to start investing in new relationships in a new community, only to disengage after a short time when we were called to serve in a new church.

So we have become “church nomads”. And what do church nomads do on Sundays? A variety of things:

• We have visited the church plants that I was connected to through Stadia. Many of these churches are wonderful places to worship, but few of them are geographically close to us, so attending is inconvenient. And though I have a relationship with the church planter, we do not have a relationship with the church. So we come and go as disconnected visitors.

• We have visited other churches in the area that are part of our national independent Christian Church network. In most cases, I know the pastor…but once again we are strangers to the congregation. We’ve tried to attend a few of these churches on a consistent basis, just to bring some sense of normalcy to our weekends, but it is hard to be a “regular visitor”. To simply show up, attend the service, and leave…week after week…produces a tremendous sense of emptiness. For us – both biblically and relationally – connection and community are a central part of what it means to be in church.

• We have visited other local churches of various denominations just to see what is happening in different congregations. We usually have been warmly welcomed, and in some cases even have had a collegial chat with the pastor…but it is clear that we do not belong.

• Sometimes, Julie and I just sit in our backyard and have “church” by ourselves. This avoids the painful reminder of being an outsider, but we recognize that this is a stop-gap measure at best.

As a result, over this past year, our small groups have become increasingly important. These groups provide us with community, interaction, and accountability. In these groups we are known, and in these groups we can practice “one another” ministry as the Lord desires. These groups have been a safe haven and a spiritual life-line during our year of sojourn.

But we continue to believe that God will open the door for us to return to ministry and to a full expression of Christian community within the context of a local church family. So even though our nomadic wanderings have been hard, we have used them as an opportunity to observe and learn…to see what various churches are doing to reach the lost and help them become disciples of Jesus.

We certainly have seen some healthy churches, both big and small. Sadly, though, such churches seem to be the exception and we have seen much that breaks our hearts. We have seen churches that are dying and do not realize it. We have seen dying churches that recognize their condition, but refuse to change. We have seen churches so out of touch with modern culture that visitors would think they had landed on a foreign planet. And we have seen churches so completely sold out to modern culture that they are barely distinguishable as a church.

Many churches in this latter group have fallen prey to what sociologist Christian Smith calls “moralistic therapeutic deism”; a uniquely American creed built on five doctrines:

(1) A god exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
(2) This god wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
(3) The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
(4) God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life…except when he is needed to solve a problem.
(5) Good people go to heaven when they die.

Underlying this creed is a belief that all other theological and ethical considerations are relative; they are true only if they work for you.

So…needless to say…as I described in a series of posts back in June (“What Does A Spiritually Healthy Church Look Like?”), Julie and I continue to be concerned about the state of the church in America.

Which brings me to this past weekend.

We were invited to visit a church in another state, where I was being interviewed for a ministry role. We have been in discussion with this church for the last few months, moving through their selection process. Our interaction to this point had been positive, but all communication had been conducted via phone and e-mail. This trip was our first opportunity to visit the church…and in the midst of our nomadic wanderings, this community of believers was a breath of fresh air.

Based on all that we saw and heard, this church is healthy. Not perfect…just healthy. Biblical truth is being proclaimed from the pulpit. The church members truly enjoy being together, and they offer a warm and sincere welcome to visitors. The Elders tackle difficult issues through prayer, biblical study, and open discussion. The Elders, Deacons, and other leaders have very different personalities and viewpoints, yet they are able to disagree in respectful ways and work toward appropriate decisions without gossip and division. And they are deeply committed to reaching their hard-to-reach community with the good news of Jesus.

On Saturday, we participated in a two-hour interview where the Search Committee asked us probing questions. On Sunday morning, we visited the worship services and interacted with the people. On Sunday afternoon, we participated in another two-hour interview…but this time, it was my opportunity to ask questions of them. They were honest about what is working well and what has not worked well. They were open about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

We flew home from the weekend exhilarated and encouraged, grateful that we had the opportunity to meet this vibrant and healthy group of believers. We are eager to stop being nomads and once again become an active part of a church family, and now we can visualize what this might look like. We do not know if we will receive a call to this particular fellowship, but we do know one thing for certain: we want to serve in a church like this.

- Bruce

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The New Shoes

I bought a new pair of shoes a few months back. We were going away for a multiple-day business event and I wanted to look great; these new shoes completed the outfits I planned to wear. Now I know from experience that the first few outings with a pair of new shoes – particularly dress shoes – can be difficult. The shoes will be tight, they will create pressure points, and I will finish the evening with a few sore toes and maybe even a blister or two.

Knowing this, I should have purchased the shoes ahead of time so I could “break them in.” Since I didn’t, I promised myself that I would live with whatever pain came my way on the trip, and I packed lots of band aids so I would be ready.

What a price I paid! Knowing my weak spots, I put on some band aids the first day, even before any blisters appeared. But after just one hour my feet were asking to get those shoes off. I endured. A few hours later, they were swelling. It felt like my feet were begging to get out of the shoes. I endured.

At the end of that first day, my feet almost cried as I released them from their prison of pain. They wiggled, they spread, they did toe-touches to the floor – life was good for my feet!

But then came the second day and it was time to get back in the shoes. A few toes were okay – hardly murmuring at all. But one toe in particular had developed a blister, and even with two band aids in place, it was not a happy camper. It was really an endurance contest…and I wondered who was going to win: the toes begging for relief? Or the person who owned the toes (me)?

I decided to try and ignore the pain and discomfort, and I pressed on. I walked everywhere I needed to go during the meetings. I almost gave up, but I kept telling myself, “you’ve come this far…keep going.” So I went on…me and my aching toes…walking and hurting.

By the third day, things were a little easier. The blister wasn’t worse and the other toes were learning to deal with a little toe pinching. The shoes were starting to stretch and become more comfortable. So, by the time the meetings finished and we returned home, the shoes were fine and my toes were fine. I could walk without pain.

So the end result was wonderful, but the process was not easy. And much of the pain was self-inflicted.

This experience mirrors how I often have felt during this past year. God has been asking me to make some important life changes, such as learning to slow down and wait upon Him. In essence, He is asking me to “put on some new shoes”. In response, I have had to develop some new perspectives and learn how to respond in some new ways. These changes have not always been easy. Along the way, I’ve developed some emotional and spiritual “blisters”; some of them self-inflicted.

It’s always tempting to want to remove the pain by giving up. But – just as I must keep wearing the new shoes until they are comfortably broken in – I also must keep pressing on with God until the new habits He wants to instill are a comfortable and ongoing part of my life.

All of this takes time, and helps me understand why God sometimes moves more slowly than I would like. There is just no quick way to break in a new pair of shoes, just as there is no quick way to become a more faithful and mature follower of Jesus.

- Julie

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Waiting Is Not Just About Me

The LORD's anger burned against Israel and he made them wander in the desert forty years, until the whole generation of those who had done evil in his sight was gone. (Numbers 32:13)

Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:4-5)

As a product of American culture, it is so easy to think that it is all about me. Particularly during times when God seems slow to act, or does not seem to be “meeting my needs” (as defined by me, of course), it is easy to start questioning and even complaining.

This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of my departure (and Julie’s) from the Eastside staff. And as of June 30, I’ve also wrapped up my ministry with Stadia. Needless to say, I’m eager to find another ministry. I do not like being unemployed. I cannot wait to feel productive in Kingdom service again. And from a purely practical standpoint, the financial reserves we are living on will not last forever, so we need to generate income. But the ministry search has been unfolding at an agonizingly slow pace.

I find myself asking, “Why me, Lord? Am I doing something wrong? Is there some unlearned lesson I still need to embrace?”

Now it’s true that waiting on the Lord always brings additional lessons, so almost every week I find that there is some new insight I can personally glean from this protracted journey. [The same is true for Julie. We are convinced that the vision for a women’s ministry center (described in the July 16 post titled “A God Sized Dream”) would not have come about, except that she was waiting…and listening…and seeking God.]

But the biggest lesson I have learned in recent weeks is that the reason for waiting often has nothing to do – at least directly – with me. As I ponder the verses written at the top of this post, I am reminded of just how interconnected we are with other people in the Kingdom of God.

The quote from Numbers in the Old Testament tells me that Israel disobeyed God and was forced to wander in the wilderness for 40 years. But was every man, woman, and child in that nation equally guilty? I seriously doubt it. In fact, we know that at least two men – Caleb and Joshua - were completely blameless and were exonerated by God Himself. Yet these two innocent men wandered…and waited…right along with the rest of their countrymen. And what about the children who were born during these years? They were completely innocent, yet many of these people grew up and spent their formative years participating in a season of waiting. Why? Because they were part of a community, and their lives were inextricably linked to the lives of others.

In other words: they were waiting…not because of something they did, but because of a season the community needed to experience.

The quote from Romans in the New Testament categorically states that I, as a believer, belong to other believers. Obviously, this is not a statement of “ownership”; it is a statement about the commitment and accountability required for meaningful community.

In many ways, this is a very un-American viewpoint, because I have been taught to prize my independence and my individuality to a fault. Independence is not necessarily a bad thing, but it must go hand-in-hand with interdependence and dependence. All of these qualities are vital, and must be held in balance (and in tension) with each other, for me to participate in community in a healthy way.

For example, even in the church, we speak (too much, in my view) of someone’s “personal relationship with Jesus.” This is true, but only in a very limited sense, because my personal relationship with the Lord intertwines my life with a faith community. A community that needs me to use my gifts and talents. A community whose gifts and talents I need. A community where we all are encouraged to live out mutual submission and encouragement and accountability. A community, in other words, where my season of “waiting” does not take place in isolation.

So I am realizing (belatedly) that my waiting is not just about me.

When our oldest daughter, Karina, moved to Portland last fall, it meant that she was no longer around to help with the wedding planning. She did what she could, but most of the planning fell upon Julie and me. If we had been working…rather than waiting…it would have been far more difficult to handle some of the unanticipated “bumps in the road” that took place in the weeks leading up to the wedding.

Our son, Matthew, is facing some major life decisions. In December, he will graduate from college. He also is in a very serious relationship with a wonderful young woman. Needless to say, he has profound questions about how the next few years of his life may unfold. Because he is going to school full-time, and working multiple jobs to meet his financial obligations, his hours are unpredictable and frenetic. Several times in recent days he has come home late at night, full of questions and eager to talk. Three nights in a row, we stayed up until 2:00 am. as I listened and responded. If I was working (and had to get up in the morning)…rather than waiting…I simply could not have been available like this to my son.

Because we have not been working, Julie and I have developed some new relationships that have enlarged our sense of community. We have had the time to meet with, pray with, and even serve our new friends. These things would not have taken place…apart from this season of waiting.

I’m even learning to see the slow job search through the richer lens of community, rather than through the selfish lens of “I want a job.” The number of open pulpits at churches is dramatically down this year because of the recession. Some pastors who had planned to retire cannot do so, because their retirement funds have evaporated. Some pastors who want to leave their established churches and plant a new church are electing not to do so until the economy recovers. Some churches have lost their lead pastor, and are choosing not to fill the position because giving at their church has declined. All of this affects me personally, because each of these situations represents a potential opportunity that will not come about. But these pastors are my colleagues; these churches are filled with my brothers and sisters in Christ. Rather than resent how their hardships may adversely (though unknowingly) impact me, I instead should pray for them…and trust that God will care for me in His time.

So as I try to accept God’s seeming slowness to bring about an end to this season of waiting, I’m learning…slowly…to respond in new and different ways. Instead of asking, “Why me, Lord?”, I’m trying to discern who I can encourage, who I can serve, and who in my circle of influence might actually benefit from this season when I am waiting.

- Bruce

Friday, July 16, 2010

Pursuing A God-Sized Dream

Over the last few months, my mind has been turning again and again to the frenetic pace at which I lived for so many years. As I talk to other women, I realize that this is a widely shared problem, because too many of us simply do not have good boundaries. As a result, we have become plugged in, wired, over-functioning, multi-tasking creatures who often drive ourselves into the ground and (sometimes) drive the people around us crazy.

Because of my concern for the way in which too many of us live, I’ve periodically had an idea to create a place where women could come for rest and renewal. Where women can unplug, relax, experience beauty and serenity, and draw closer to God. But this idea never took on any concrete form. It just continued to be a vague, unformed concept that I might pursue someday.

Then, last December, Bruce wrote a blog entitled, “My dreams for Julie” [see December 12, 2009 post]. I’m sure that at least some his thoughts were sparked by the comments I would make from time-to-time, because his dreams for me included this idea of a gathering place: a room of quietness and beauty, where I could meet with women individually and in groups to encourage them to have meaningful times of personal reflection and prayer. His dreams also included a place where I could write devotional articles that would address the deepest needs of women; a way to share my heart for ministry through the written word.

Needless to say, it meant a great deal to have my husband articulate this prayer of dreams that were important to me.

The months passed and these dreams simmered. They were ever present, but there was little change or activity. And then, one day in April while I was exercising at the gym, our loving Father in Heaven began just pouring plans – specific and concrete plans – into my mind. For the first time, the dreams started to become real as God gave me a clear vision…of rooms, gardens, and colors. A vision of ministry programs that would touch the hearts and souls of women. A vision for a quarterly spiritual journal that could help women read, reflect, and feel God’s touch.

Since that day last spring, the Lord has continued to feed me details about how to bring this vision to life. And – as Bruce has prayed with me about these details - he has agreed with me that this is a vision from God. So we are embarking on a journey of faith (another one!) by writing a ministry plan and a business plan. And as we write, we receive more and more specifics from the Lord. We find that we’re doing very little “planning”…we’re mostly “listening” to capture what God is revealing to us.

At this point, the dream has become large; so large that it is truly beyond our puny ability to implement. We’re not sure at all of the “how” and the “when”, but we feel compelled by the Spirit to keep moving forward.

It’s interesting that as the vision becomes more clear, the steps involved become more complex. I find this overwhelming at times, but Bruce reminded me the other day that we do not need to see all of the steps: we just need to have clear direction about the next step. So as we take each step, in faith, we simply trust that God will reveal the step after that…and the step after that.

At this point, our best guess is that the full implementation of the dream still is a couple of years away. We will have to form a new non-profit organization, raise funds, purchase a site, develop it, recruit staff and volunteers…the “to do” list is a long one.

It is easy for me to be fearful, or to wonder what God is up to. Fear can paralyze me, and make me believe that a God-sized dream cannot happen through me. But I realize that this is false; it is a lie that the enemy wants me to believe. So moving forward to capture this dream is teaching me to stand with God and to stand against my fears.

I can see this dream so clearly in my mind…and I now look forward to the day when this dream will be a reality.

- Julie